Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Power Rings

mozambican ametrine and 18k gold custom power ring by ali amaro
Mozambican ametrine and 18k gold power ring.
Over the last year I've been making power rings for women. Large gemstones, minimal settings, lots of personal significance. There's something magnetic when a person finds the right stone at the right time. There is an energy that makes you never want to take it off your finger. 

blue topaz and gold custom power ring by ali amaro
Blue topaz and 10k gold power ring.
These rings are some of my favorite pieces to create. They usher us through chapter changes, whether a round-number birthday, the beginning of a new career, or the loss of a loved one. A power ring is a reminder to be courageous, to be present amid heartache and triumph, and above all to be true to one's self.

Raw Mozambican blue topaz and sterling silver power ring.
Recently I felt the need for a power ring of my own. Back in Maputo, I was introduced to a Dutch diplomat whose hobby was lapidary work. I went to buy some gems one day, and spotted this incredible blue topaz in his "trash pile," an empty Ricoffy container full of rocks that had been rejected for one reason or another. This particular topaz has an inclusion, or internal flaw, that looks like iridescent water bubbles from the right angle. My diplomat contact had started to facet the stone, but when he discovered the defect he abandoned ship. For me, however, it was pure magic. He gave me the stone for free and I remember thinking that one day I would know how to make it into a ring.

Rough blue topaz in asymmetrical sterling silver setting.
That was before we moved to the Bay. Before I applied to CCA. Before I learned how to solder. Before knowing for sure if this crazy idea to change careers would materialize. Six years later, settled in my new identity as a jeweler and an artist, I finally made that fabulous topaz into a power ring.

And just in time... Now more than ever I need a reminder to find myself, be true to myself, be in the moment, and have no fear of the unknown destiny that lies ahead. Life is a bumpy-ass road sometimes, and there's nothing like a luminous, geologically ancient, perfectly flawed rock on my hand to guide me through the turbulence.

Monday, June 08, 2015


Here's a little behind-the-scenes insight for you all, thoughts about my jewelry and art and business, two years out of school and a year-and-a-half into the gallery:

- I still buy double the materials I need for most custom jewelry projects. I am a firm believer that Murphy is always riding shotgun, and things will go wrong at the most inopportune times. No matter how careful I am with planning and measuring, mistakes happen. Things melt or are cut wrong. Also, the black hole that lurks in all jeweler's studios will swallow up pieces of metal or tiny gemstones that manage to escape our death grip or drop through our inner thighs a nanosecond after we slam them together because something has fallen off the bench. Between the possibility of ruining or losing a critical component, I have to have double materials on hand. Expensive, but I have no regrets.

- For tricky client projects, I make prototypes. Often at my own expense in terms of hours and materials, but I still see myself as such a learner that it makes sense this way, for now. I want to make sure that things will work, materials will behave, that I'm not promising something I can't deliver. I understand the piece so much more after making a prototype. At a certain point, I imagine being comfortable and experienced enough that I don't have to buy double materials and don't have to spend quite so much time in the prototype phase. I think of it as building a knowledge library that I can access in the future. I take really good notes on what I am doing, and what specifically I am learning from not just the prototypes, but all the work I make.

- I make most of my jewelry by fabricating. This means I start "from scratch" using different dimensions of wire and sheet as the building blocks for a finished piece. Occasionally I will make pieces using lost wax casting, where you start with a wax model, make a mold, and then cast in metal. Casting and fabricating have significantly different design and production challenges. Fabricating to me is like miniature engineering. You have to be exceptionally precise and consider the order in which you do things. Casting is more like sculpting a beautiful wax and then following instructions, like baking a cake. To get more pieces, you just "bake" another round. Casting is way more efficient, time and cost wise...but it's the mental and structural challenge of fabricating that really gets me. So a big challenge for my business is that I prefer the slow and expensive but technically brilliant way of working.

- Custom work is what keeps coming to me, which is exciting. I have made some really incredible pieces for people this year. I can't share all of them yet, which is the burden of the jeweler who must keep secrets, but I am very excited and will be able to post photos in the coming weeks.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Angel in the Bay

We had a visit last week from my college best friend Angel and her man João. They live in Houston, he is Portuguese, she is ridícula. :) Angel and I have been friends for 16 years and through thick and thin. I love when she visits because I feel so totally like myself! It was her birthday, and she got engaged, and we all had a great time hanging out.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Right and Ruined

I've been working on my next body of work, the ruin-ruin again-ruin again concept. Here is a painting that started as a colorful, abstract thing I really liked. Then I ruined it with some dried acrylic pieces attached with woven silver wire. Now I'll ruin it again with these strands of seeds (they're just placed on the painting right now so I can get an idea of composition).

After writing the other day, I went ahead and sent my notice to the Point to Point crew that I won't be able to help organize the next event. It feels good to prioritize my own creative work. As I said in my letter to them, strike while the iron's hot.

It felt good to step back. Even better has been making contact with two new artists in the neighborhood who want to get involved in Point to Point. I love how the ebb and flow of organizers and participants seems to be working as intended. In our original concept, Point to Point will hopefully become a self-sustaining event. Step up when possible, step back when needed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On Point

Once again I'm reminded that the things I'm good at aren't always the things I want to spend my time doing. Back in Moz, this was the conclusion I came to about writing proposals for development projects. I could write a kick-ass proposal and get projects funded, but I always felt sick and burned out (when doing the work, as well as in general). When you are self-employed, your work affects your person so much.

Now, I'm feeling sick and burned out again. When this happens, it's time for an adjustment. Sometimes it's in the life side, sometimes in the professional realm, more often both.

I've been doing a lot of travel recently - two weeks ago Rico and I went to St. John in the US Virgin Islands for the wedding of my longtime friend Mark (who was also one of our groomsmen, and met his girl when he went traveling after attending our wedding in Rio). I also went to Albuquerque to hang out with my dad for a lighting quick couple of days. Then over the weekend my best friend Angel came to Casa Cali with her man, and we celebrated her birthday and went wine tasting in Sonoma. In all, a solid period of vacation with a couple manic work days tossed in the mix.

It gave me time to think. I managed to figure out what's got to give, and now I have the task of making those changes. Not always fun, but feels so good afterwards.

Over the last year I've been co-organizing a community arts event called Point to Point Richmond. It has been an incredible grassroots experience, and I've met so many of my fellow artists here. I've put a huge amount of volunteer energy into launching Point to Point, and for that I have no regrets. But I'm at a point (ha, ha) where the balance is off, it's taking my focus and my time away from the work my gut is demanding be made. So I am majorly stepping back.

I feel strongly that it's time to be in my studio. I've received many custom requests for jewelry pieces and repurposed heirloom work, and I'd like to be able to say yes to those. I am also wanting to paint more, and do figure drawing, and experiments with enameling. I want to make weird work, wall pieces that I deliberately ruin, and then ruin, and then ruin again and see what's happened. I want to work with the rusted railroad steel I collected here at Ferry Point. Practice my sketching.

When I feel a gut-level pull to the studio that can't be ignored, I know it's not just about the work. It's connected to personal growth, relationships and decisions outside the studio. Diving into the art helps me take the steps I want to in life.

I want to have art dates with my friends. I want lazy weekends where I can sit around and do nothing, but also get laundry done and some prep cooking for the week. I want to train with Hilary for another 10k, and then possibly a 10 mile run next year. I want to hang out with family, and also to travel. Reclaim our yard. Design a churrasqueira with Rico. Take a nap every once in a while.

The exciting thing to me is that I believe I can do these things and also my studio work. Having the gallery open fits in, too, as long as I have some help. But all of this plus major community organizing does not add up. Actually, I guess it over-adds up because the feeling is a whirling, unfocused cloud of pending stuff. Overwhelm for sure. So it's time to take a step back, and deal with all the feelings and fallout that come with that. Hopefully it will be smooth, and if not, at least lead to some interesting art.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Ten years ago I started this blog. I quit my job. I packed my things into a massive truck, bought a plane ticket, and left Austin. It was all very planned, plotted out. I spent a month in Rio, then moved to Mozambique.

Then reconnected with Rico. Lived in Chimoio. Moved to Maputo. Got cats. Made amazing blog friends. Grew to hate development work. Got married. Started selling jewelry. Lost a cat and got more cats. Left Mozambique. Changed careers.

Moved to Point Richmond, with my mom as neighbor. Sold Casa Rosa. Went to art school. Set up a studio. Started a gallery. Witnessed Rico become a contractor and furniture designer. Attended Rico's citizenship ceremony. Spent some quality time with my dad. Made plans for Emilia to move. Got a tattoo.

It has been one hell of a decade. Beijos a todos.